On October 8th, Governor Newsom signed State Assembly Bill 1394 into law, a crucial bill that helps prevent the sexual abuse of minors. California tech firms will now face fines of $1 to $4 million if they fail to promptly remove sexually explicit content involving minors. The law is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2025.
AB 1394 will impose stricter regulations on social media platforms for their involvement in “knowingly facilitating, aiding, or abetting commercial sexual exploitation” of minors. The new legislation mandates that platforms provide a means for minors featured in such content to remove it. Platforms are also given 30 to 60 days to investigate and block such content from reappearing after receiving a report.
Further, the law mandates that tech companies inform the user who submitted the report that the platform has received it within 36 hours. These websites are also required to provide a formal written assessment, indicating whether the reported content qualifies as child sexual abuse or not.
Websites that do not adhere to these rules may be required to compensate the reporting user, offering potential damages of up to $250,000 for each violation. This means that minors have the option to seek financial redress from these platforms for not promptly removing explicit content featuring them. To prevent legal action, websites can perform semi-annual evaluations to fix any flaws in their systems that permit explicit content to circulate on their platforms, as outlined in the bill.
The bill’s text references complaints suggesting that Facebook’s response to child abuse on the platform has been inadequate. Additionally, it points to a 2022 Forbes article that alleges TikTok Live allows adults to manipulate and exploit teenage users.
Assemblywoman and bill co-sponsor Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) celebrated the passage of this bill saying, “Governor Newsom’s signing of AB 1394 further crystallizes California’s commitment to protecting kids in the online world and sets a nationwide standard in the fight against child sex abuse material.”
Wicks also emphasized that the law sends a clear message to platforms operating from outside the state that more stringent measures targeting privacy violations could be implemented in the future. “This law underscores our state’s dedication to defending the most vulnerable among us, and sends a resounding message to other states and tech platforms that using the internet to exploit children will no longer go unchecked,” she said. “[We] hope that this law will serve as a catalyst for change nationwide.”
Opponents of the bill, including California Chamber of Commerce and the Civil Justice Association of California, argue that AB 1394 could restrict the free speech of children. For example, they could be barred from using chat rooms on certain social media sites.
The truth is that children deserve protection from the many dangers of social media. Unfettered use of social media, particularly among children, leads to increased feelings of loneliness, depression, and anger. They are even at a higher risk of suicidal thoughts. This new law marks a significant step forward in combating the exploitation of children online.